Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

October 26, 2010
Can Soros and his $1 million light up Proposition 19 comeback?

Only a few weeks ago, California's prospects of becoming the first state in America to legalize marijuana for recreational use couldn't have seemed much higher.

A Sept. 30 Public Policy Institute of California poll showed the Proposition 19 ballot initiative leading by a 52-41 percent margin a week after a Field Poll showed the measure up by seven points.

Now with recent polls showing Proposition 19 rapidly losing support, billionaire fund manager, philanthropist and marijuana legalization advocate George Soros is coming to the rescue and donating $1 million for the closing campaign to pass the initiative.

"Our marijuana laws are clearly doing more harm than good," Soros wrote in an opinion piece, "Why I Support Legal Marijuana," that was published in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal.

His column and cash comes after blistering attacks on Proposition 19 by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former national directors of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

While Holder said the federal government will "vigorously enforce" marijuana laws in California if Proposition 19 passes, current and former authorities argued that the mere act of paying taxes on retail pot sales permitted under the initiative would constitute admission of a federal crime.

Last Saturday, the results of new Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll showed Proposition 19 losing by 52 to 41 percent.

But the Yes on 19 campaign on Monday began airing its first campaign television commercial. The spot, featuring former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara declares that "the war on marijuana has failed" that that Proposition 19 "will generate billions in tax revenues" and "put drug cartels out of business."

Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said Soro's contribution to an independent committee supporting Proposition 19 will pay for increased airings of the McNamara ad and get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of the initiative.

"We've always said is going to be a close election," Gutwillig said. "This infusion of resources will help us make sure that reform-minded voters get to the polls on Tuesday."

In his Wall Street Journal article, Soros wrote that "regulating and taxing marijuana would simultaneously save taxpayers billions of dollars in enforcement costs, while providing many billions of dollars in revenue annually."

He said Proposition 19 "would represent a major step forward," adding: "And just as California provided national leadership in 1996 by becoming the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana, so it has an opportunity once again to lead the nation."

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Public Safety First, the No on 19 campaign, said the Soros donation will be unable to rescue the Proposition 19 campaign.

"We always knew we weren't going to match them dollar for dollar," he said. "But the more they spend the more the public becomes aware of the flaws of Proposition 19."

Proposition 19 would allow adults over 21 to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to 25-square-feet of pot at home. It would also permit local governments to tax and regulate retail pot sales.

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